You don't get many of these politics, but this one is a Zen-like question: How do you spend campaign money when you don't have a campaign?
The fact of life in modern Philadelphia is that incumbents are so entrenched that they often don't draw any opponents in the primary or general elections.
You wouldn't know that from looking at their campaign finance reports, but this year there were eight local incumbents -- all Democrats, of course -- who got a free ride. Yet they raised $2 million and spent $1.8 million of it.
Most of it was the usual: care and feeding of constituent groups in their districts -- flowers for the deceased mother of a committee person; a nice check to the local church or civic group, fees associated with opening second office. It's the kind of stuff that builds up good will and political insulation.
But there are candidates who bring their own unique style to campaign spending. If you wanted, you could create a Pandora mix list of music to accompany the reading of their campaign reports.
For starters, let's queue up Tony Bennett singing "The Good Life."
Ron Donatucci has been the city's register of wills for four decades. He's a bona fide political survivor, a low-profile public official and ward leader who stays out of trouble by staying out of the way.
This year, Donatucci did have a Republican opponent, Russ Feinberg, who tried his best. His best, though, wasn't nearly enough to come close to unseating the incumbent. He lost to Donatucci by a vote count of 164,735 to 32,493.
Suffice it to say, Donatucci wasn't worried. He spent $132,000 during the portion of the election cycle that encompasses January 2015 until May of this year.
During that period, he tallied up $62,000 in charges on five credit cards. A lot of it went for the general category of "meals and entertainment." A lot of it, Donatucci said, went to pay for his big annual fund raiser at the Panorama Restaurant. He estimated that bill at $19,000 a year.
Then there's the line item meals at Dante's & Luigi's ($667), Ralph's ($1,304) and the Saloon ($1,248). It may be his way of being a locavore. They are all in South Philadelphia, which is his home turf.
Donatucci also used $5,909 for leasing a car for work. He said the money only pays for part of the lease cost. He decided to lease after he agreed with Mayor Nutter's suggestion early in his first term that elected officials turn in their city-provided cars.
Finally, his campaign picks up the cost renting for the space used as headquarters for his 26th Ward. It totaled $12,750. The money goes to the owner of the property on the 1600-block of Porter Street. The owner is Ron Donatucci. "I give it to them at way below market rates," he said.
Here's our second tune on the Pandora hit list: "We Are Family," by Sister Sledge, that funky, joyous late 70's hit.
Sheriff Jewell Williams spent $121,835 in this election cycle. Included on his contribution list are 165 employees of the Sheriff's Department, a little more than half the department's payroll.
As Claudia Vargas reported recently in The Inquirer, a lot of those contributor-employees also were the ones who most frequently got overtime. That, Williams told her, was strictly a coincidence.
He said he does not mace — the practice of forcing employees to contribute — though we should mention that in the Sheriff's Office and the Register of Wills, hiring is done by patronage, not civic service.
To change tempo, we should call up "With a Little Help From My Friends," the Joe Cocker version of the Beatles song.
Council President Darrell Clarke had the luxury of surplus this year. He raised $423,000, partly in anticipation of running for mayor. When he decided to take a pass for that office, he was unopposed for re-election to his Council seat.
Clarke used a chunk of that money to become a generous giver to fellow council people and some other politicians. He's in a strong position to be re-elected president by his peers on council, but it never hurts to re-enforce friendships.
Contributions were given to Cherelle Parker ($10,000) who was running -- unopposed -- for Marion Tasco's seat in Council's 9th District; $10,000 for Kenyatta Johnson, who was opposed for re-election in the 2nd District by developer Ori Feibush; money for Bill Greenlee, council-at-large candidate ($15,000); another $15,000 for Blondell Reynolds Brown, council-at-large candidate; and $10,000 each for Ed Neilson and Wilson Goode Jr., who ended up losing their at-large seats.
Clarke even gave $5,000 each to Republican Councilmen David Oh and Dennis O'Brien, giving new meaning to the phrase "loyal opposition."
To give a slightly more modern touch to our playlist, let's queue up "The Theme (It's Party Time)" by Tracey Lee.
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell is a fixture in her 3rd District, so her costs are low -- she spent $116,000 in this cycle. Some of it went for the usual: street money for committee people, donations to wards in her district. But instead of doing retail outreach to her constituents, Blackwell prefers wholesale — with parties. She spent $47,000 over the cycle for the costs associated with parties — "Holiday Event" and "Community Party" are two of the events listed. This does not include expenditures for tchotchkes like minature Liberty Bells and $382 worth of turkeys.
All of these expenditures are nice, but are they really necessary? We began with a question and will end one, too. Why spend so much campaign money when you don't have a campaign?